Tour of David-Peese garden


Entry garden. A gravel path flows around this sunny, graveled berm. It literally stopped me in my tracks as I gazed at the intriguing plant combinations.

“Does this make me look fat?” I heard Gary Peese ask someone, fussing with his shirt as the Open Days tour of his and partner James David’s garden commenced. There was certainly no need to worry about how their garden looked. It was fat, bulging with fascinating plants from all over the world, rich stonework, a huge lot, and a sense that years of creative design and experimentation—not to mention a whole lot of money—had wrought one of the most beautiful and charming gardens in Austin.


Cacti in the entry-garden berm


Container planting with stone obelisk

Meandering down a wooded hillside behind the house—a contemporary cottage—the garden’s paths branch here and there, opening into intimate garden rooms and secluded seating areas.


A teak bench and limestone table invite relaxation under a leafy arbor.


The Embroidery Garden, as I believe Peese called it when he explained to me where the different paths led. This long, narrow space contains boxwoods planted in a loop-de-loop design that does resemble needlework.


Working its way down the slope, the woodland path segues into an elegantly simple staircase composed of limestone blocks and decomposed granite.


In the midlevel garden, a limestone dovecote towers above a clump of agaves.


A limestone trough spills water into a small goldfish pond near the house.


Ivy-covered “eyebrows” above the windows—another eye-catching, old-world detail. Just think how many hours it would take someone over the course of a year to keep that fig ivy from spreading all over the house and windows. It’s trimmed as precisely as a banker’s mustache.


Water runs all through this garden. Here, near a dining table, trickles a simple basin fountain.


A runnel divides the limestone staircase leading down to the large goldfish pond. I found this little stair-stream delightful and thought how much my kids would have enjoyed hopping over it or just sitting next to it, trailing their fingers through the cool trickle.


Here’s the view from the other side of the goldfish pond, looking back up the stair-stream toward the house.


And again, at the top of the stair.


How cool is this? A large terracotta pot is built into the wall, or at least cut in half and mortared to look so. The agave looks terrific planted there, and notice the pup poking out of a crack between the pot and the wall. I love the quirkiness of it.


On the sunnier side of the garden, a line of pyramidal boxwoods echo the shape of a triangular, corrugated-metal shed.


Looking from an iron gazebo across the terraced dining area to the dovecote. Notice the gorgeous limestone floor in this gazebo.


A potted cactus sits on a window ledge.


Croquet anyone? A formal lawn finishes out my tour of the garden.


I had to include a photo of the untouched lot across the street from the David-Peese garden in order to contrast what you see here with the garden they created. In this hilly, wooded Rollingwood neighborhood, they’re probably gardening on thin caliche (limestone) soil under heavy juniper and oak cover. David and Peese obviously transformed what was a scrubby slice of nature into their own Garden of Eden.

Many of David and Peese’s plants are unknown to me. When I asked a volunteer from Gardens (a local nursery started by David and Peese) about the origin of the plants in the garden, he answered, “The Mediterranean, Mexico, Australia. Basically anyplace with a climate similar to ours.” What about cold-hardiness, I wondered. He replied that although many of these exotics required babying for a few years, they could and would adapt to our extreme climate. Hmmm. I wonder how many man-hours that babying amounts to? And how much water does it take to get this garden through our hot, dry summers? “Our water bill is out of sight!” David cheerfully confessed to an inquiring visitor.

Well, thank goodness it’s their bill and not mine, but I’m awfully glad they’re willing to share their garden with us thriftier gardeners. Visiting their Old-World-meets-New-World garden was the highlight of my day.

As I promised yesterday, more posts about the Open Days tour are forthcoming. Join me tomorrow for a tour of the Arth garden.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

26 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    Pam —

    I didn’t make it out to any of the Open Days gardens this year (a double-header soccer game plus birthday party day for us!) but I’ve been to the David/Peese garden in the past. Every time I’m there I imagine a plant dying or not looking its best and one of them calling Gardens and saying “bring over another one.” Still it’s an inspiring spot. I’m looking forward to a week of reports on what I’m sure were a myriad of beautiful gardens.

    — Susan

    Yes, I can imagine that phone call too. In the article I linked to, David is quoted as saying, “I kill more than I grow. But I’m a gardener. This is normal to me.” I admire his admission because, as anyone who gardens knows, it’s the gospel truth. And since David plays around with so many exotics, he’s bound to kill ’em aplenty. While his plant selection is not one that most of us can afford to copy, his design sensibilities can be (my post on Deborah Hornickel’s garden tour is coming soon), even on a budget. I think. —Pam

  2. I’ve been there before too, and thought it was great fun to see guys with taste and money have fun gardening in Central Texas. Wealthy people here waste their money on all kinds of junk – but spending it on gardening is cool!

    Does anyone else think that both sculptural and horticultural phallic symbols appear with much greater frequency here than in other gardens? I really don’t believe it’s my imagination!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Well, now that you mention it . . . —Pam

  3. Wow! Wow! Wow! I regret more than ever that I missed touring gardens with you this year. (And I missed the Stones concert too even though we could hear the noise of it from inside our house with the windows closed.) The ponds make me drool with envy. I especially like the limestone trough into the small goldfish pond.

    And yes, Annie, I noticed all the phallic symbols–was it the garden or did Pam’s camera eye just gravitate to them?

    Golly, I feel like a pervert for noticing all those erect cacti, towers, and obelisks! :-) —Pam

  4. ShellyB says:

    I am so glad you are writing about the garden tour! My friends and I talked about the different gardens, but I am very happy to get to hear more.

    I think I expected the David-Peese garden to be way more edited – more like the store – in which (eclectic as it is) it is all about beautiful design. The D-P garden is tasteful and is wonderfully designed – but it was much more unrestrained crazy than I anticipated. I thought the steps to the pool and then back to the greenhouse were high, high drama (in almost a Central American pyramid way) and the vegetable area was unbelievable.

    It was the “grand scale” in such a different way than the Harris house. Maybe it was the variety of unusual plants, or the sense of difference and discovery. There was wit, there were chickens, there were trip-hazards – and I liked all of it. The way they designed around their very challenging site was inspiring.

    I am glad that you showed the detail of the ivy over the windows. I only managed to glance at the house a few times and each time I had a different reaction – Tudor, modern, shed, Mediterranean. Crazy!

    If “crazy” doesn’t sound like a compliment – I already liked Gardens long ago. Seeing their garden made me like them even more.

    Also – I am stealing their dwarf pomegranate pruned into a globe idea. (In your first picture.) Just perfect for the center of my garden.

    Thanks for commenting, ShellyB. I like your Central American pyramid comparison. I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re exactly right. And I’m glad you mentioned the chickens because I left that out of my photo tour (my pics were no good), but wasn’t the coop a delightful surprise?

    And your comment about only glancing at the house a few times is right on. It’s obviously an interesting and beautiful house, but it doesn’t take center stage in this garden. After the spring Wildflower Center-sponsored tour, which I felt focused more on houses than gardens, it was fun to go on a garden tour that was all about plants and design. —Pam

  5. Wow is right both for the garden and for the excellent photos Pam.

    I may be immune but I did not notice a preponderance of phallic symbols. What I did notice was this was a very green garden. There was very little in the way of “Color”. The one Strawberry Ice Bougainvillea with the Koi was the most color I saw. The rest was muted and scarce.

    The cool shades and textures of green with the white of the limestone and tan gravel paths was very soothing to the eye, very inviting. The Arth garden above was also a study in green. The water features added to that sense of comfort.

    I wonder why their water bill would be so high since it looked to be a very drought tolerant garden. Is the soil so thin there that more water is needed or is it the size of the garden and all the water features? It seemed to be a source of pride and apparently they can afford it. Maybe they are just more generous with the water than the plants actually need.

    You’re right, it is mostly green, although there were many spots of color : in the entry garden, near water features, and at the bottom of the garden (not pictured), which was blazing with swamp sunflowers along a wet-weather stream. —Pam

  6. susan says:

    thanks for the tour! susan

  7. June Tarr says:

    I missed accompanying you on this tour by my moved ahead visit but now I don’t feel I’ve missed it any way. I probably wouldn’t have noticed half of what you took pictures of, tending to get caught up in the ‘grand scheme’ of it all. This way I get to enjoy your prose as well as the view through your cameras lens. I’m so proud that you are my daughter! mom

  8. Sonia says:

    Thanks from me too! Your pictures were wonderful and I enjoyed taking my time, going through them all savoring every single bit.
    p.s. I saw phallics as well. What can I say – ? It’s art!

  9. […] The xeric garden, planted high and dry on a graveled berm (not unlike the one in the David-Peese garden), showcases yuccas, agaves, desert willows, native grasses, sotols, and cacti. […]

  10. […] After destruction comes creation. The new ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate anchors the left-center. On the far left, a feathery bamboo muhly replaces the ragged bicolor iris. A mere placeholder, the Mexican feathergrass in front of the downspout is a volunteer that I moved to this spot until the bamboo muhly fills in. In the front left, I’m trying African aloe, a tender South African native used to great effect in the David-Peese garden. (The apron of gravel around it is meant to prevent rot where I expect the aloe to fill in. Though I know it looks weird right now, I hope it will be invisible in a season or two.) To the right of the aloe, a replanted cigar plant will play off the pomegranate’s red-orange color come fall. […]

  11. […] If you missed seeing this garden in person, check it out in Great Gardens or here at Digging. Our photos are similar, but in the magazine you’ll get fresh perspectives on the garden’s design. […]

  12. ewa says:

    absolutely amazing! So enjoyable! I just love it!

    Thanks for visiting, Ewa. I’m glad you enjoyed the photo tour. —Pam

  13. Lovely blog!!!
    I invited to visit my garden!

    Thanks, Maria. I’m glad you stopped by. —Pam

  14. Thanks for visit my garden!!. Your blog is georgous!!!. Could I link it from mine?.
    Yours sincerely
    María José

    Hi, Maria. I’d be delighted for you to link to my blog. Thanks for your kind comments. —Pam

  15. Pam says:

    Wow. Just gorgeous. I love that dining table – and that terrace with the limestone floor. I just love the mix of all that stone with so many textures. Beautiful.

    I know. Isn’t it amazing? I so wish you could be in Austin this weekend to join us for the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling and see this one. —Pam

  16. Jake says:

    It’s absolutely beautiful! Is it open to public? Or only at certain time of the year?

    Jake, this is a private garden, but it’s generally on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Austin tour. In 2008 it’s scheduled for October 4, I believe. I hope you get a chance to see it. —Pam

  17. […] hope you’ll join me for a virtual tour of the gardens, one per day, starting with the David-Peese garden. By the end of the week, you’ll have seen them all. To entice you, here are a few of my […]

  18. […] here for my post about the David-Peese garden. Tune in tomorrow for a post […]

  19. […] by a runnel. Hmm, do I sense a theme on this tour? Remember the runnel in the stairs at the David-Peese garden? This one is even better. The garden’s formality eases here as the path gently curves, […]

  20. muge says:

    Beautiful garden.

    müge karaali
    Osmanlı Bahçesi

  21. […] Annie in Austin and MSS (who helped plan the Spring Fling) bask in the friendship of the day in James David’s garden. (My thanks to Barbara, who took this photo with my […]

  22. […] (see top photo)—is still owned by the founders and former owners of the nursery, plantsmen James David and Gary Peese, whose incredible garden I’ve posted about several times. I wonder what they’ll choose to do with […]

  23. […] first time I saw this garden, on the Open Days 2007 tour, I visited first thing in the morning and took a lot more […]

  24. […] out a short video of him and his garden posted on YouTube by KLRU, our local PBS affiliate, or see my post about the garden from October […]

  25. Ann says:

    When I see something this detailed,this beautiful I marvel more at the souls and minds that created it. That’s where the real marvel is.
    Amazing work gentlemen. Its gorgeous.

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